The British Flash
Loc: Lancashire UK
SWAROVSKI 8 x 20 B HABICHT
mini - review of a mini -binocular
“Nice things come in small packages” is a common and memorable phrase.
Perhaps more applicable to binoculars and telescopes would be :
“Nice things come in LARGE packages ! “
But does the former at least apply to the Swarovski 8 x 20B binocular ?
This , the smallest binocular available from the legendary Austrian stable , is a folding roof prism model , which when folded fits generously into it’s supplied zipped black canvas 5 ins. x 3 ins. carry case. The folded binocular itself measures 4ins.x 2.2 ins. , fitting easily into an average shirt top pocket , where at only 7.6 ozs. it is likely to feel comfortable.
What may feel uncomfortable is the thought that in exchange for it , that shirt pocket would be around £300 UK the lighter. Price is usually relative. You expect high quality in this case. Do you get it ? --- Read on !
Reasons for Purchase
Whether driving, cycling or walking around the countryside in our home county of Lancashire , around our weekend retreat in Wales or on holiday abroad, or even simply sitting out on starry nights , seldom am I without a binocular around my neck.
Sharing occasional views through my Zeiss 7 x 42 inspired my wife to want a high quality binocular of her own. The primary consideration was that it must be small enough to fit in a handbag.
There followed a most enjoyable search for what my wife considered to be the “best”
pocket sized binocular she could find. This is a different prospect to that of trying a binocular specifically for celestial use, for which one can rarely be tried before buying.
It is also quite different to looking for a binocular of any kind on a restricted budget. This was essentially a “money no object” search for an instrument which could actually be tried and tested for it’s intended purpose prior to purchase.
Whilst undeniably influenced to some extent by yours truly and various experienced optics retailers, the final decision was made entirely by my wife.
This difficult decision was made after comparing the image quality, overall feel and extent of warranty on offer with various compact models ( up to 25mm objective size)
from Canon, Leica, Minox, Nikon, Swarovski , Zeiss and several other less expensive models that were available at the time ( Spring 2003 )
I must admit to having enjoyed this little mission as much as if I’d been searching for such a binocular for my own use. I was pleasantly surprised by the instant impressions of brightness, sharpness and general image quality provided by several of those tried.
Like myself, my wife expressed a preference for 8x as opposed to 10x models, due to the relative ease of holding the image steady and the wider true fields of view.
That said, I personally find a 8x pocket binocular much harder to hold steady than a 8x medium or full sized model in the 32mm to 56mm range.
Type ----------------Folding compact pocket roof
Prisms--------------Phase corrected roofs
Focus---------------Main central at rear with front central for right diopter adjustment
Coatings-----------Multi -layered *SWAROTOP* and *SWARODOUR*
T.F.O.V------------6.6 degrees /345ft.@1000yds /115m@1000m
Width--------------3.7ins. (at 67mm I.P.D)
Diopter Range---- +5 to -5
Close Focus-------13 feet ( stated ) [ 9 feet measured ]
Although “featherweight”, the housing is of robust metal construction and finished in a smooth attractive surface, as are all Swarovski binoculars , in the “traditional company colours” of army green and matte black. It looks and feels classy.
Unlike most, if not all of it’s most serious competitors in this pocket sized range, it is reportedly truly waterproof. It is also dustproof and probably relatively “shockproof”.
But how many people are going to spend around an average net week’s wages on a binocular then proceed to throw it to the ground, tip a bucket of sand over it , then blast it for 5 minutes with a power -washer just to make sure ?
However , Swarovski have gained such an enviable reputation for excellent after sales service that even if someone were crazy enough to carry out such actions , they would probably replace the binocular if it became damaged as a result. One retailer informed me that when one of his customers had a “minor problem” with a S.L.C model after three years of heavy use, Swarovski replaced the binocular with a brand new one , free of charge , including postage. No questions asked .
That takes some beating and is most re-assuring.
Eyecups are of the twist -in / twist -out variety to allow “customised setting” for eyeglass wearers, although with or without my glasses on , I find the small oculars and 2.5mm exit -pupil quite difficult to align with my eye pupils. As I have indicated in other reviews I have deep set eyes and am not particularly fond of this type of eyecup. I cannot see the full field 6.6 degree field of view with glasses worn or without unless I squash my eyebrows up against the rims. I much prefer winged rubber eyecups when not wearing glasses and prefer around 18mm eye -relief when I am wearing them.
The stated eye -relief is 13mm. I find it to be very similar to that of my Swift Kestrel 10 x 50 ( also reviewed here on CN ) . The Swift eye -relief is quoted as being 16mm , although other experienced reviewers have estimated it to be as short as 10mm.
I have not established a definitive method of measuring eye -relief but remain concerned that manufacturer’s stated figures cannot be trusted. This is a potentially crucial aspect for eyeglass wearers which deserves accurate description.
The old adage “try before you buy” would seem to be even more appropriate for people who need to wear glasses when using binoculars.
Perhaps the most variable feature amongst top - rated pocket-sized binoculars is the arrangement for right diopter adjustment. Any of which take a little “getting used to”.
Although odd at first, with a little practice and familiarity, the arrangement Swarovski have come up with here is actually very practical and easy to use.
The binocular can easily be held in one hand ( although not as steadily as with two) , allowing perhaps a middle finger to adjust the broad centre -focus wheel at the objective end at the same time as the thumb can twist the narrow right diopter wheel at the ocular end closer to you. Not that such simultaneous actions ought ever to be necessary of course, but at least it means the binocular can be held and adjusted to suit the individual by using one hand only.
Precise focusing of any binocular is critical , and it is surprising how many people do not know how to carry this out properly.
The most clear, concise and accurate description I have ever had the pleasure of reading with regard to adjusting central focusing binoculars was provided by my friend Erik D. Lin right here on the Cloudy Night’s Binocular forum ( see the Best Of Posts compiled by Ed Zarenski.)
The location and “feel” of this twin focusing wheel system on the Swarovski 8 x 20 was one of, if not THE most decisive factors in my wife’s otherwise difficult decision when finally choosing this in preference to others that more or less equalled it’s optical performance from Leica , Nikon and Zeiss.
Like much of this binocular, the “main” central focusing wheel resembles a miniature version of the highly rated Swarovski EL models.
For those not familiar with the model, this feature allows well over two full turns of the wheel to alter focus between close -up objects and infinity. Because of this it takes me a little longer than I would prefer to get any particular object into optimum focus.
This may have advantages in theory, but to me very little, if any , in practice.
I find it more frustrating than anything else.
On the face of it, given the diminutive nature of this binocular, the lack of tripod adaptor as mentioned in my specifications list might seem purely academic, but it is worth noting that the most recent addition to the popular Canon Image Stabilised range is a 8 x 25 model !
As previously indicated, it is my opinion that whilst undoubtedly having physical and social advantages over larger models , mini-binoculars bring with them considerable disadvantages in the shapes of :
1. Being more difficult to hold steady
2. Having smaller exit pupils
3. Having severely restricted light -gathering ability.
Each of these three basic “disadvantages” contributes to some of my opinions expressed under the following sub -heading.
When viewed indoors, the patented Swarovski coatings resemble the predominantly purple colour of those seen in my Zeiss binoculars . When viewed outdoors the hue looks more amber than purple.
As with many things in life, a first impression is often a lasting one. For most people I would imagine a quick glance through this little binocular would impress favourably.
Scrutiny of images through ANY binocular in a wide variety of conditions and applications would, I believe, eventually reveal imperfections or undesirable facets of one kind or the other.
Most people have neither the time nor inclination, nor in some cases the ability to discern between the finer points of quality and aberration. This becomes very tough even for the experienced reviewer when trying to compare apples with apples in the shape of almost equally performing binoculars of any given classification.
Rather than attempt to summarise from memory cursory comparisons between this and the models my wife preferred it to a year ago, I though it might be more interesting , and hopefully useful , to compare my impressions of it’s performance against some other binoculars I either own or have access to.
I decided to see how it measured up against three of them.
1. Zeiss 7 x 42 BGA T
2. Swift Kestrel 10 x 50
3. Tasco 8 x 25
My decision to select these three was influenced by an interest to see how it compared against others of equal magnification , but of differing objective sizes and from various price ranges.
The Zeiss 7 x 42 costs almost exactly twice as much as the Swarovski 8 x 20 and it’s performance is quite widely known and acknowledged as about “as good as it gets” in it’s class , so I thought it would be useful yardstick.
I included the Swift 10 x 50 because it falls into the same price bracket as the Swarovksi 8 x 20 ( at least it does if bought brand new here in the UK ) and I was interested to see how much or little is actually to be gained from carrying such a heftier unit around than settling for one a quarter of it’s size and weight , and also if , in my estimation , both products really are worth around the same amount of money.
Because I already knew these two glasses would provide tough competition for ANY binocular of their own size, let alone to a 20mm model , I thought it only fair to borrow my son -in law’s Tasco 8 x 25 to add a little perspective to the tests.
I stress that this particular Tasco 8 x 25 is quite old and not necessarily representative of ALL Tasco 8 x 25 binoculars , more recent versions of which might be far superior
My plans of these comparisons extended to include daytime tests on a variety of objects at varying distances, a brief comparison in twilight conditions, and a brief session ( on a different night) under patchy night skies.
My field test notes upon completion would take pages to detail, so I will attempt to condense them whilst retaining what is hopefully a modicum of useful information.
Just as what is known as “seeing” in astronomy circles can vary due to almost infinite variations in atmospheric conditions, hardly ever are “seeing” conditions consistent from one minute to the next during terrestrial viewing.
In certain favourable terrestrial conditions, the naked eye of humans with “average acuity” can resolve outline details of objects at least 20 miles away.
At the other extreme of this “seeing scale” there are days when mist or fog restrict viewing to several yards.
I have mentioned elsewhere in posts to various binocular forums that the very best terrestrial viewing conditions often arise when rainbows are visible and rain is around.
Such were the conditions in my North Wales location on the afternoon of Saturday 13 March 2004, which I had set aside for work on this review.
The following tables are a simplified attempt to give an idea of perspective.
Marks out of 10 are an admittedly rough guide to personal overall impressions.
The first table sums up the comparative performances in terms of the general image presented . The allocated “mark out of ten” being a guideline my impressions arrived at by virtue of the sum of the parts Resolution, Sharpness, Brightness and Contrast contribute to the overall image.
The second table of points refers to more general impressions and opinions.
All daytime tests were undertaken from a splendid elevated vantage point about a mile from the North Wales coast, apart from the study of the fire -point kiosk, carried out from my holiday home veranda.
Due to “cloudy nights” of a literal nature, the celestial comparisons I had planned had to wait several nights for a suitable break in clouds back home in Lancashire.
In the event I spent far less time on these than I would have liked, although I doubt whether many people who buy be considering spending £300 on a 20mm binocular specifically for astronomy !
Specific Target impression of image quality 10x50 7x42 8x20 8x25
Swift Zeiss Swaro Tasco
Hedgerow at 15 feet 10 10 10 8
Telegraph pole at 50 yards 10 10 9 7
Stone wall remains at 600 yards 9 9 8 5
White lighthouse at 1 mile 9 8 7 4
Wind turbines in sea at 2 miles 9 8 7 4
Blackpool tower and roller coaster at 35 miles 8 7 6 4
Fire – point kiosk at 60 yards – font resolution 9 8 8 6
Fire – point - fading light performance 9 10 6 4
Night sky - star sharpness 7 8 8 5
Night sky - fainter stars 8 8 5 3
Total Score (max 100) 87 86 74 53
Feel in hands / comfort / weight / ergonomics 9 10 8 7
Ability to hold image steady ( day and night ) 8 10 7 7
Robustness / waterproof / fog proof 7 9 10 5
Image Brightness 9 10 8 5
Overall Resolution 9 9 8 5
Contrast 9 9 9 6
Field of View 10 10 8 8
Edge Sharpness 8 9 8 5
False Colour 9 9 7 5
Eye Relief ( suitability for glasses wearers ) 6 10 7 6
Total Score (max 100) 84 95 80 59
GRAND TOTAL SCORE 171 181 154 112
Observation notes :
All observations were made by hand -holding all binoculars.
I found it easier to hold the images steady with the 10 x 50s than I did with the 8 x 20s
A thin yellow band could be seen at all times when focusing the eyes on the actual image of the perimeter of the objective ring with the Swarovski 8 x20.
All showed chromatic aberration to some degree or other in the form of purple / blue banding on the outside edge and yellow / green banding on the inside edge of the telegraph pole against bright blue sky background. The Zeiss seemed to show less than the others, both as in the banding being thinner and it not being as easy to spot in the first place for some reason.
The levels of this slight chromatic aberration seemed to be directly proportional to the exit pupils of these four models !
Co -incidence perhaps ?
I wondered if this could be because the 6mm exit -pupil makes it just that little bit easier to align the eyes with the exit -pupil ?
Chromatic aberration is, in my opinion, a minor “problem” that perhaps a little too much can be made of, given the many other types of optical aberrations commonly found.
I’ve spent enough time playing around with lenses to appreciate this.
Pin-cushion distortion was also evident in all binoculars at the field edges and this curvature could actually be seen when studying carefully from as close as 50% from centre in both compact models, from around 70% from centre in the Swift and from around 80% from centre in the Zeiss.
The fire -point kiosk was bright red with a blue label which contained white lettering of various font sizes. The very smallest font words could JUST be resolved with the 10 x 50s when they were placed on the veranda rail, but not when hand -held.
The slightly larger font could be resolved by hand -holding the Swift 10 x 50s and the Zeiss 7 x 42s but not quite by the Swarovski 8 x 20s.
Yet when I carefully placed the 8 x 20s on top of the mounted Swifts , using a window mount , I found they actually equalled the Zeiss in this respect , until the light started fading, after which I was not surprised to see that the 10x50s and 7x42s were still resolving the larger print far after the compacts were rendered useless.
In spite of my rather unscientific approach, I think the respective “scores” out of 200 are quite an accurate reflection of the relative attributes of this particular quartet of instruments, and perhaps a good indicator that very generally speaking, it might be true that “you get what you pay for”.
The curve of “quality versus price”, or put another way, of “value for money” with respect to binoculars, is clearly not a smooth one. It tends to curve much more sharply somewhere around or very soon after the “mid-price” classification.
That last 5% or thereabouts of quality can easily cost 50% more and beyond.
Whether or not it is really worth it is debatable and depends upon individual values and circumstances.
For anyone with more money than sense (or in my own case,with even less sense that money ) I would stick my neck out and say that in spite of it’s somewhat ridiculously high price tag , this Swarovski 8 x 20 is a “pocket gadget” that could bring many hours of trouble -free joy to anyone bitten by the binocular bug.
Purely from an optical standpoint, it might be no better than the even newer Nikon High Grade or Zeiss Victory 8 x 20s , but I wouldn’t mind betting it’s more durable.
Everything is relative. At £300 it seems a “steal” when one considers the more recent offering from the Swarovski camp , the 8 x 32 EL , costs three times more in the UK.
Yes -- around £900 for a 8 x 32 binocular !
Is it worth it ?
I think I’ll leave that for someone else to enlighten us upon !
If you’ve got this far -- thanks for reading this.
You must be as binocular crazy as I am !
Kenny Jones , March 2004.
Milton Wilcox R.I.P
Loc: 48'29N 122'37W
Excellent review! If I ever do another review I will use your format as a guide, with your approval of course. Very consise and informative. Also very readable and entertaining.
Great review Kenny! It was interesting to the end, but are you sure this is a 'Mini Review'?
The British Flash
Loc: Lancashire UK
I'm flattered that you should suggest such a thing.
Of course you or anyone else would be very welcome to use my format as a "guide".
Daniel , yes there was a hint of irony when I used the expression "mini -review". I hasten to add it was not my idea to pigeon hole all these new reviews under such a title.
I hope that if nothing else , this serves to prevent potential reviewers from feeling "restricted to minis" as a result.
To anyone who might read or may have read this review, I must apologise fro my lack of technical know -how in converting very neat and tidy charts and tables from Microsoft Word Excel to web site format.
Attempts to do so satisfactorily took me almost as much time as writing the review itself !
Regards and thank you very much for your comments.
They are very much appreciated.
Milton Wilcox R.I.P
Enjoyed your review. Although it would have been nice to read a comparison of like wise bino's what you did was a fresh and different sort of approach. I have not noticed the CA in my 10x25 SW's that you described in my casual use but will have to more rigorously check that out. I have learned a little trick to help steady these binoculars when holding them. I hold them sort of like a salute with my thump gripping from below and the edge on my pointing finger resting along my forehead. Particularly with the 10x this makes for an appreciable improvement for steady viewing. Please do not take my comment wrong on (what at first blush could appear to be) the apple and orange aspect of your review. This in reality has more to do with my expectations than your intentions. Basically one could look at it as a means of determining the whole issue of value when it comes to high end small bino's and the larger more standard ones. A review of size and cost generally in binoculars rather than a review of different binoculars of similar size cost and or build quality as it relates to performance. One thing I do appreciate is that instead of trying to draw upon memory of the various small binoculars you tested prior to buying the Swarovski's you used what was available to you for your comparison. A side by side real time evaluation I for one tend to give more credence to. It is clear that you put in some real time and effort for this review. Well done and thank you again.
"Humility is not thinking less of your self-it is about thinking of yourself less."
Edited by nemo (03/19/04 01:24 PM)
Loc: Frederick, MD
That was very impressive. You have a talent Sir. Great informative review and entertaining reading to the end. Well done.
SLAP Observer --- TMB130SS, SV102V(LOMO Lens), SV80ED Deluxe
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke.
"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." -- George Orwell
"The measure of a man’s greatness is not determined by what he accomplishes for himself, but by what he accomplishes for others.” -- Some Bald Guy
Kenny: Nice review. I've only just noticed it, having bought a Swarovski 8x20 B a few days ago. I particularly liked the comparison with the cheaper compact binocular and the full sized binoculars. I wonder if they have changed the optics slightly as I see virtually no edge distortion and almost no chromatic aberration? The almost perfect edge to edge sharpness is very impressive. Anyway, I think your review is very informative and a good description. I am impressed at how nicely made they are, almost like jewellery, and yet the optics are definitely up to the mark, but as you say, no substitute for a full sized instrument. I too find the eye relief somewhat restricting. I can use them with eyeglasses but only just, and mine sit close to my face too.
The British Flash
Loc: Lancashire UK
Thanks for the complements Mickey --it means a lot coming from you.
That CA I mentioned is NOT easy to see unless you look for it. In fact I'm stretching a point to even mention it really
As I tried to explain in my review , it's a green / yellow "ring" that is seen mainly when looking cross -eyed at the actual objectives , rather than an annoyance of actual image such as telegraph pole edges and all the other usual suspects. If you look closely I'm sure YOU will notice it !
Since my reviews in March I've come to notice CA through EVERY instrument I look through --in certain circumstances.
It does NOT worry me in the slightest any more -- I've grown to accept it as a thing as inevitable as the occasional rainbow.
Enjoy your new binos Mickey -- all in all they really DO represent a brilliant little package.
Regards -- and clear skies of course ! -- Kenny.
Milton Wilcox R.I.P